Artistic Illustration of Cicada 3301 Riddle
Image 1: Artistic Illustration of Cicada 3301 Riddle

Between 2012 and 2016, a claimed esoteric group known as Cicada 3301 posted three sets of Riddle online to attract the world’s fastest and most intellectual code breakers. According to what they said, “Those who solve these puzzles will be recruited for unknown tasks”. It was the most difficult Cryptographic Riddle of the Internet age. “Cicada 3301” has been named one of the “Top 5 Unexplained Mysteries of the Internet”. After the initially sophisticated cryptographic puzzle competition began, no one knew what it was, except the person or organization that started it. Some said it was a recruitment tool for the CIA and MI6. Some claimed it was a “Masonic conspiracy,” or a cyber mercenary force. If it meant anything, what was it?

In this article, we have tried to briefly explain “Cicada 3301” with its Timelines and Pictures. To know how difficult this puzzle was read the full article.

What is Cicada 3301?

Cicada 3301 is thought to be the most difficult cryptographic riddle of the internet, an complex, and cryptic riddle. Cicada 3301 is the name given to a mysterious organization that has released three sets of riddles to attract the world’s fastest and most intellectual code breakers. This puzzle was first posted on Reddit and 4chan, and it lasted about a month. After a year a second round began, Then the third round, following the confirmation of a new clue posted on Twitter.

Data security, cryptography, steganography, and Internet anonymity were all strongly involved in the puzzle. It has been dubbed “the most complex and puzzling puzzle of the Internet age”, and the Washington Post named it one of “the Internet’s top 5 most enigmatic mysteries”, with much speculation about its purpose.

According to some theorists, it is a recruitment tool for the NSA, CIA, and MI6. Some claimed it was a “Masonic conspiracy” of secret societies or the force of cyber mercenaries. Others claimed, it was an augmented reality game, but no company or individual tried to profit from it. Some of the final contestants believe that Cicada 3301 is a return to the cypherpunk movement of the late 1980s and 1990s.

The first puzzle began on January 4, 2012, by an unknown person who posted an image on the random board (marked as /b/) of the unknown imageboard website 4chan. This puzzle lasted more than a month. On January 4, 2013, the second round began after a new clue posted on Twitter was confirmed, followed by the third round on January 4, 2014, and the third puzzle is still unsolved. On 4 January 2015, no new challenges were provided. A fresh hint surfaced on Twitter on 5 January 2016 but in April 2017, Cicada 3301 sent its last verified OpenPGP-signed message, rejecting the validity of any unsigned puzzles.

What were the tools, clues, and methods?

Before reading the timeline let’s know first what were the tools, clues, and methods:

Cicada 3301 contained pages of unpublished secret texts written on the Internet, telephones, original music, bootable Linux CDs, digital photos, signs of genuine paper, and runes. Only a few pages of a book called Liber Primus, which means “first book,” to decrypt, etc. The official Cicada 3301 wiki has more information on which pages were resolved and how. These signs addressed a wide range of novels, poetry, artwork, and music, in addition to using multiple methods of encrypting, encoding, or hiding data. To ensure authenticity, each clue was signed with an OpenPGP private key.

Timeline of the Cicada 3301 Riddle

This was the first image submitted by an unknown person to the random board (marked as /b/) of the imageboard website 4chan on January 4, 2012.

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The anonymous person, who posted the above image with the number 3301 at the end of the picture, was looking for “very intelligent” people to dare others to decode the message contained inside the image. At that time whoever found this riddle unknowingly sat in the motion of the most intricate scavenger hunt on the internet.

While many people had no idea where the hidden message was, some were able to decode it in minutes, only to discover that it was only the start. The first step was to open the image file in a text editor, which revealed an appended string of readable text.

The above image string contained a cipher, which after decoding yields a URL link to another image.

The URL link then leads to the image below.

The above image appeared to be the end of this riddle at first, but contestants were able to extract another hidden information encoded inside it using an app called OutGuess, see the image below!

It decoded into a link once more, but this time it went to a subreddit that featured information about a book called The Mabinogion.

The riddle didn’t end here; it piqued the interest of contestants who were following this mysterious route as well as others who were simply watching it unfold on the boards. A phone number was discovered using the book and a code, and when the number was called, the following pre-recorded message was played.

The above message says, “Very good, you have done well. There are three prime numbers associated with the original final.jpg image. 3301 is just one of them, you will have to find the other two. Multiply all three of these numbers together and add a .com on the end to find the next step. Good luck, Goodbye!

This call recording was reposted all over the Internet before armchair detectives discovered this recording. A growing community of people trying to solve this intriguing puzzle wanted to find out, but no one knew what it would lead to or where it would take them.

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It didn’t take long for rumors to spread all over the internet that it was the work of a secret society or intelligence agencies like the CIA, and MI6 looking for exceptionally gifted and intelligent persons skilled in cryptography, stenography, and other similar fields.

However, the other two prime numbers indicated in the conversation recording turned out to be the pixel dimensions (509, 503) of the original image. The width and height were multiplied by 3301 (509 x 503 x 3301), and that yielded a web address: 845145127. com.

After visiting the URL the contestants got a countdown that was approaching zero and when the countdown approached zero, the website reloaded the page with the list of coordinates. Those coordinates were from 14 different locations in five different countries. It was now up to volunteers living near these specific coordinates to continue investigating Cicada 3301.

Those who knew there was a bigger body behind this puzzle now had a pretty strong belief that it was the work of an international organization because managing such a large scavenger hunt would have required a lot of collective resources. This couldn’t have been the work of an ordinary troll, this was something else.

However, after visiting the given coordinates, people found posters with the cicada symbol and a QR code. And from here the Cicada 3301 name was coined.

Some QR-codes were pasted on poles, others on the walls of bus stop shelters. Scanning the QR-code by the contestants yielded a URL link, after visiting the link an image containing a puzzle, which upon solving revealed a book. The URL of a website was revealed after solving the puzzle of the book. The challenge took a new turn once the website was visited, and only a select number of first entrants were approved for the final stage. The website closed with the message “We need leaders, not followers” too late for visitors, and many contestants were dissatisfied.

On the Internet, questions started swirling that how many were chosen and who were chosen for the final stage of the puzzle, who are the people who were chosen, whether anyone knows them, but how many of whom were chosen for the final stage of the puzzle. It was gone, no one could know. According to some the finalists were told not to collaborate with others or discuss the specifics of this private phase of the problem, but since we already knew about it, not everyone took this warning seriously.

After a prolonged period of silence for nearly a month after the finalists were chosen, an image appeared on the subreddit indicating the puzzle was complete, with the words “Search is over”, see picture below.

Those on the road to solving the Cicada 3301 problem were furious; The complete lack of explanation was interpreted by many as a confirmation that the riddle was nothing more than a ploy to manipulate them. After all, there were a lot of unresolved questions. What was the point of the puzzle? What happened to the people who made it to the finish line?

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But, as said, this was only the beginning. The second round resumed Cicada 3301 on 4 January 2013 with a new image and hidden message.

People were already discussing Cicada 3301 on sites like Reddit and 4chan, and it was part of the discussion in the world now. Because the cicada became famous, it was inevitable that it would be hacked and false claims would be made. Reproducing similar problems using imaginary images failed at first, and people exposed these fake puzzles before they even started.

It was time for the second round in which another image was provided with a message, which after solving revealed a book called ‘The Book of the Law’, from which a connection was decoded and the puzzle progressively revealed itself.

Again the Outguess program was used, which resulted in the discovery of a book cipher. The book was Aleister Crowley’s Liber al vale legis, also known as “The Book of Law”. After solving it a hyperlink was found, resulting in an image of a music file, a Twitter account, and a rune table.

The second mystery, as with the first, extended into the physical world, when the runic letters were finally deciphered, revealing another list of coordinates, this time involving eight sites from four countries. The trace then cooled, but Cicada 3301 had chosen a new team of armchair detectives. The remaining disappointed and sad contestants of Paheli have no idea what happened this time as well, as who got selected this time too. This time there was no official notification, and the cicada went away once again leaving behind many questions and mysteries.

No one knew the cicada puzzle was not over yet. Shortly after, the third phase began on 4 January 2014. With another image, the Twitter account of 3301 has been revived. Although the message was brief this time, the brilliant mind decoded it in minutes and the next saw piece was already there.

The image led to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s book Self Reliance, and as expected, a link was created from it, and the puzzle proceeded in the same manner as the previous two rounds. This time, though, the mystery focused on a mysterious book known as Liber Primus. Solving six .onion problems with the use of RSA and outguess led to the discovery of Liber Primus, the first Latin-language book of the Cicada 3301. The boom was written in a language based on the runic alphabets of 2013. Only a small portion of the data is translated because of the layers of encryption.

In Latin, Liber Primus means First Book, and it was penned by Cicada. The book was written entirely in runic alphabets, and the alphabets previously given by the mysterious Twitter user made sense, as you can see in the image below.

The more participants are engrossed in deciphering the characters and messages in the book, the more mysterious surprises unfold. However, only 19 pages of the book were translated correctly in about a year. For example, one of its pages instructed participants to search the Deep Web by a link to a website, but the site was not found. A webpage with a recording called Interconnectedness was discovered on another page. Ultimately the book contained a plethora of clues and codes, most of which have yet to be decoded.

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As 2015 progressed, the third problem from Cicada 3301 appeared to be the most difficult, yet the puzzle remained unsolved. Cicada attempted to teach the path to enlightenment by urging participants to re-examine the book in early 2016. The Cicada 3301, which became famous worldwide and was the subject of constant discussion on news channels, was met with criticism, mainly from the authorities of the Los Andes province of Chile, alleging involvement in criminal activities. After many criticisms around the world, Cicada responded with a PGP signing, denying any involvement in such actions. See the reply below.

This time, he specifically requested that he be made aware of any false clues or signals being circulated as well as the verification of his PGP signature. In 2015, a group calling itself “3301” hacked the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA), but it was later revealed that the group had no affiliation with Cicada 3301, which claimed that Cicada was a legitimate organization. Verified the claim when he admitted that they were not part of the cicada.

However, this last riddle appeared to be the most difficult, as there was little development and complete quiet from Cicada after 5 years. After the Open PGP 7A35090F reply, there was no other reply from the cicada, and no further information was provided for the game. Participants and observers were now asking themselves, “What was the overarching aim of this puzzle?” When will it be over? Did Cicada depart after attracting more than enough attention for their criminal activities?

Who was the mastermind behind Cicada 3301?

People demanded answers, and many hypotheses and assumptions about who was behind Cicada 3301 were formed because the third challenge looked impossible to complete. Decryption required all of the photos, as well as specific pages from the Libur Primus. We have yet to get a message from Cicada 3301. What were these people’s motivations and who were they? Some belief it to be an elaborate prank, the activities of an intelligence group or corporation, such as the British GCHQ and Google Billboard. Although after some time some participants received some information in an email, see email below. Whether this email was from Cicada or not has not been confirmed.

When the first image of Cicada 3301 appeared on 4chan in 2012, many assumed it was a digital marketing firm attempting to advertise a new product or service. Microsoft previously promoted its newly designed ARG in 2001 in a similar way to its new video game Halo 2. However, this option was quickly ruled out because the puzzle does not lead to any type of video game, service, or product.

So, what is this mysterious organization? After an email surfaced from Cicada 3301, that question became clear. A finalist shared an email that showed some information about the group, but this email is also unconfirmed.

The PGP signature, which would have verified the validity of the email, was easily erased by whoever leaked it. Cicada has characterized itself as an international organization that believes that privacy is a fundamental right. This indicated that they were looking for like-minded people to work on privacy-conscious solutions. The email asked three strange questions, the second of which was ‘Do you believe information should be free?’ The email itself begins with the phrase ‘DO NOT SHARE THIS INFORMATION’, which appears false.

What does Cicada 3301 want?

Riddles’ claimed goal was to recruit “very talented individuals” each year, but the ultimate goal remains unknown. Cicada 3301 is, according to some, a secret club dedicated to improving encryption, privacy, and anonymity. Others claimed that Cicada 3301 was a cult or religion. According to several people who won the 2012 puzzle, 3301 typically uses non-puzzle-based recruitment methods but created Cicada Puzzle because they were looking for potential members with cryptography and computer security skills.

Marcus Wanner was the man to solve the 2012 riddle, claiming that those who translated the puzzle were questioned over their support for information freedom, online privacy and freedom, and censorship disapproval. Those who responded successfully were invited to a secret forum, where they were urged to create and complete a project that furthered the group’s principles. They didn’t finish their work on the normal decryption mechanism, so the website was taken down.

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Conspiracy Theories

There were speculations in the early months of QAnon’s existence that Cicada 3301 was behind “Q,” the unknown entity who coined the conspiracy theory, and that it had constructed the entire QAnon phenomenon as a type of live-action role-playing game. According to Lisa Clapier, Cicada 3301 puzzlers were encouraged to participate in decoding Q’s posts and “follow the white rabbit” to QAnon’s posts. Despite this, 3301 has not officially indicated that they are affiliated with QAnon in any manner.

Illegal conduct allegations

Cicada 3301 is a “hacker group” involved in illegal operations, according to officials in Chile’s Los Andes province. In response, Cicada 3301 issued a PGP-signed declaration denying any involvement in the criminal conduct.

A group calling itself “3301” hacked into Planned Parenthood’s database in July 2015; nevertheless, the group appeared to be unrelated to Cicada 3301. Cicada 3301 later released a PGP-signed statement claiming that they “are not linked with this group in any way” and “do not condone their use of our name, number, or symbolism.” Cicada 3301 was not linked with the hacker organization, which was later proven.

Claims of cult status

Many claimed that the puzzles were an introduction to occult ideas, and potentially even recruiting for a cult, as the group acquired prominence and public attention. Conspiracy theorist Tim Daly, a former senior research fellow at the Orthodox Christian Family Research Council, analyzed the cicada 3301 puzzle and said, “The mysterious cicada 3301 appears to lure participants into the secret la Blavatsky and Crowley’s dark web.” But the heart of magic is the spurious promise of ultimate meaning through self-prediction.”

Others have suggested that the Cicada 3301 puzzles are a modern and technological analog of Western esotericism and mystery schools’ enlightenment journeys.

Conclusion

In this article you go into detail about Cicada 3301 – Most Difficult Cryptographic Riddle of The Internet, which posted three sets of puzzles online to attract the world’s fastest and most intellectual code breakers, the third puzzle being The status is still unknown. According to him those who solve these puzzles “will be recruited for unknown tasks”. So if Cicada 3301 is a legitimate organization, it is far from ever to employ such gimmicks to recruit members. Since at least World War II, corporations and governments have used similar recruitment strategies, citing a similar recruitment program the British intelligence organization GCHQ launched in 2013 called Can You Find It. Participants had to decrypt a sequence of cryptograms buried around the Internet, which solved the entire puzzle and won a spot prize with the agency.

In 2014, the United States Navy announced Project Architeuthis, a similar encryption challenge. Although it was known what happened to the participants in these government-sponsored challenges, no one knew what happened to the participants of Cicada 3301. Closing differs if the problem does not progress. Is it conceivable that Cicada decided to call it a day in the middle of their schedule? Is it possible that they are still working on their secret projects?

The fact that anyone with a disposable income and enough time on their hands can build such an extensive worldwide network for Enigma suggests that Cicada has lost interest in its recruitment drive or else. Don’t want to waste resources. However, we still don’t know much for sure, can only speculate based on circumstantial facts.


Sources


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